Who will take centre stage to fight for arts?

Subsidised theatre needs a champion, claims director Max Stafford Clark

One of the most significant themes of Our Country's Good is its triumphant advocacy of the power of theatre. A group of downcast and demoralised convicts undertake a production of Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer at the prompting of a liberal governor. When first produced in 1988, it provided a rallying cry for the theatre in the third term of a government that considered "subsidy" and "theatre" dirty words. Unfortunately, politics and theatre are cyclical and once again we are at a point where the theatre is "on a knife-edge", as Nicholas Hytner proclaimed recently.

In a scene from Our Country's Good, Governor Philip proves to be the establishment champion we long for. "Theatre is an expression of civilisation. We belong to a great country which has spawned great playwrights: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, and even in our own time, Sheridan." We may echo the Governor's words and proudly point, "in our own time", to Pinter, Stoppard, Churchill, Hare, Lee Hall, to Wertenbaker herself and more. Who will be our Governor Philip?

No champion steps forth from the Government's benches. We have a Minister for Culture who recently reprimanded an arts community, rightly concerned for the future of regional theatre, for making statements that she wrote were "close to pure fiction". And the irony of an Education Secretary who is a prominent consumer of the arts yet excludes cultural subjects from the Ebacc. In Our Country's Good, an officer objects to the proposal that convicts should stage a play when they could be learning "useful" skills instead. It is a timely play indeed.

Shouldn't the Arts Council be that champion? In 2009, the Arts Council published a glossy brochure called Achieving Great Art for Everyone. In it, it claims that "the arts are crucial to a holistic education", and that it "will champion opportunities for children and young people to enjoy the arts". Out of Joint already runs a highly successful education programme but, ironically, the increased demand created by Our Country's Good has spawned its own particular problems. Recently, one of our workshop leaders went to a Liverpool comprehensive. The expenses involved in the trip meant we ran the workshop almost at a loss. The fee for our two-hour workshops has slowly increased from £120 in 1993 to £150 today. Last month, for the first time, we encountered price resistance, as three disconsolate drama teachers phoned to say their headmaster had vetoed their planned workshop on fiscal grounds.

Encouraged by Achieving Great Art for Everyone, I wrote to the Arts Council, supplicating an extra £1,000 that we would use to cap all remaining workshops for this academic year at £100, and to instigate a training day so as to train more workshop leaders. The Arts Council replied that it was unable to find £1,000 from its reserves of slightly more than £141m to support us. The design, printing and distribution of Achieving Great Art For Everyone cost £31,307. Perhaps it has spent too much time boasting about its commitments to find time for much championing.

In Our Country's Good, officers question whether the convicts could ever have the sensibilities to appreciate culture. Slash away the funding that makes the arts one of our continuing success stories and we are in danger of depriving many of the opportunity. In this atmosphere, who can doubt that the voice of Our Country's Good needs to be heard more urgently than ever.

Max Stafford Clark directs 'Our Country's Good' at the St James Theatre, London SW1 (0844 264 2140; stjamestheatre.co.uk) 30 January to 9 March

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments